As New York struggles with competing interests for three Las Vegas-style casinos downstate, with proposals running the gamut from Times Square to Coney Island, Bally’s has nearly crossed the finish line for the first-ever true casino in America’s third-largest city,
According to Bally’s Corp. Chairman Soo Kim, the success of the company’s Chicago casino project – a historical milestone itself – is paramount to the future success of the iconic brand’s current strategic goals.
Kim’s hedge fund, Standard General, acquired a 22% stake in Rhode Island lottery terminal and table gaming casino concern Twin River Worldwide Holdings Inc. prior to buying the Bally name from Caesars in 2020.
According to Bloomberg reports, Kim says that a successful launch of the only true casino in the history of America’s third-largest city will be the most important thing the nascent company with a storied brand name will do to date, bar none.
Iconic Brand to Become Household Name
“[This] will be our most important, period,” Kim said regarding the success of the company’s overall strategy. “It’s really an opportunity to re-announce and reintroduce the Bally’s brand name nationally and what better place than Chicago.”
The Bally brand dates back to the late 1930s. The “juice” in the name has assisted the once unheard-of “Twin Rivers” company in a quest that so far has seen it become an operator of gambling properties in 20% of all American states with over a dozen operations across the country.
The Chicago casino has knocked down domino after domino and now only needs approval from state regulators to ready a temporary casino and soon open a historical landmark in gambling history. Steve Wynn couldn’t do it – Sheldon Adelson couldn’t do it, and certainly, Donald Trump couldn’t have done it even if it were on his radar when he controlled three casinos in Atlantic City.
Timing is everything
The American commercial gambling industry has simply exploded online and on land as pent-up consumer energy is released after too much time at home, and sports betting has become commonplace and officially legal and regulated in most states. America has gambling fever as the economy defies traditional logic and players bet like there is no economic downturn in their real worlds.
Land-based gambling is no longer relegated to the meccas of Las Vegas and Atlantic City or the Gulf coast, let alone riverboat casinos or backroom gambling halls. The gates have opened for better or worse and, as Kim said, “The next great frontier are large cities,” according to a story seen on Crain’s Chicago Business.
Not all observers have absolute confidence in the smart business acumen of Kim translating into the wherewithal needed to accomplish what other well-experienced titans of the industry had the opportunity to do but chose not to attempt – Bally’s Corp has simply never executed a project of this magnitude in the physical world. Kim has, however, done far more impressive things with money in another realm – and sometimes, with the right actors who know how to leverage power and delegate authority to competent cohorts, anything is possible.
Almost anyone can imagine a nearly one million square foot casino floor with exhibit space along the Chicago River, an entertainment center worthy of its environs, restaurants to please all visitors, and a hotel with all the amenities needed to serve welcome guests – or could they?
Whether timing is everything or not might be open to interpretation, but striking while the iron is hot after negotiating a perfect position to hold the blacksmith hammer is not as contentious a proposition.
Too Hard to Handle
Mega Casino operators such as Las Vegas Sands and MGM Resorts chose not to bid on the tender out of concerns over market sustainability and tax rates. As they shifted their focus to other markets like Atlanta and NYC, the Illinois General Assembly dropped the preposterous anticipated tax rate of 70% to a much more manageable 40% after Mayor Lori Lightfoot requested the move to keep the possible tender alive.
Still, the potential for failure is real with over 17,000 video gambling terminals beckoning to gamblers in the region and nearly a dozen other venues in the state and nearby Indiana.
The state gambling commission notes that gambling revenues in the state have not recovered from pandemic lows and a trend toward less gambling has existed for nearly a decade in the state. Observers also log the increased interest in sports betting and online casinos as threats to the venue’s potential success.
Overall, most of the gambling revenue in the state comes from the state lottery.
Kim doesn’t seem too worried about the competition and he’s not a businessman accustomed to failure.
“It would absolutely be our most complex challenge,” Kim said. “We feel more than confident.”
More than 30 million tourists visited Chicago in 2021 and the city is home to nearly 3 million residents placing it just behind Los Angeles and New York City for the size of the population in the city proper.
Bally’s revenues are expected to provide $200 million a year for first responder pensions which are currently underfunded.
The casino will be built on land that formerly held the Chicago Tribune Publishing Center. Final approval by the Illinois Gaming Board is pending. The permanent casino could open in 2026 with a temporary site opening as soon as during the next calendar year.
Source: Chicago’s first casino will relaunch the storied Bally’s name, Crain’s Chicago Business, December 21, 2022